Richard, 45 years old, is a large man, standing over six feet tall for sure. I met him while working with Rob, who has swum with me for the past few years. Rob has cerebral palsy and Richard is one of his caregivers. He is so amazing with Rob- so chill and laid back. He knows exactly how to respond to him and says things like, “Whatever you need, boss.” “Whatever you say, boss,” in his deep, mellow voice. Richard began working with Rob about five years ago. They are like long lost friends- good buddies. They go to the movies, Chuck E. Cheese and Rob’s favorite- the airport, where they watch the planes take off and land. I don’t know Richard well, but in my eyes he has always been a gentle giant- calm and cool.
One day he got pretty close to the pool’s edge and his eyes got wide. I said, “Hey Richard, you should come in with us.” He looked at me like I was crazy (no comment!) and told me that he didn’t know how to swim. He had never learned. He said that he grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, where learning how to swim was never a priority for him. He was into music and spent his time on the drums, not in the water. He had to part of my project.
I have to say I was a bit surprised when Richard agreed to be my next
victim participant. With his size, I thought he would sink like a brick for sure. But he didn’t. We have both seen each other work with Rob, so I believe there’s a mutual respect there, which I’m sure played a part in the trust he showed in me.
Working with Richard reminded me of working with my last participant, Kavitha. He would move through the water in a horizontal position with his face in the water, stand up and say, “I didn’t make it very far.” Seriously!?!? Some people (myself included) are so hard on themselves. I would tell Richard, “Ummm…excuse me…that’s further than you’ve swum in 45 years!! Hello! Awesome!”
He kept apologizing for not being able to swim. This is something that bums me out so much- when I see an individual that is embarrassed because they don’t know how to swim. Embarrassed! Such a shame. Embarrassment only makes it more difficult to learn, to trust and to become empowered. I’m so glad this didn’t get in the way of Richard’s progress.
He learned how to blow air out with his face in the water, then used fins (size 13-14- THANK YOU FINIS!) and a noodle to cruise through the pool. Once he got comfortable, he ditched the noodle and fins and just went for it! He was one of the most grateful individuals I have ever encountered (and I encounter a lot!). He kept saying, “You’re the best. You’re the best.” I was humbled.
A week later, I received a text from Richard in Hawaii. It was a photo of him coming out of the ocean with a huge smile on his face and it said, “The best teacher!”
Yesterday, my friend Maria told me she’s teaching Pre-Kindergarden next year and she was ecstatic. I told her she was a saint and that I don’t know what to do with kids that young on land. She replied that she absolutely enjoys it and she loves that those kids need and love her. They attach themselves to her legs and cry when she isn’t there. And she loves it- it’s what keeps her going- what motivates her to get up and go to work. Students like Richard motivate me- any day of the week. Knowing that you are making a positive impact in someone’s life is an incredible feeling. Reminds me of a quote that I love…
Check out Richard!!!